Shikha Pandey. ©ICC
Posiview-InPost

There is a lot of perception around Shikha Pandey. It is said that she over-analyses her game so much that it has stopped her from playing to her full potential. It is said that she freezes in key moments. It is said that she does not know what her strengths and weaknesses are. Part of all this might be true, but she is also a prime example of how a pace-bowling allrounder should not be handled.

Pandey was never given the confidence to prove herself as a batter even though she scored two fifties from No.4 in her first four One-day Internationals way back in 2014. She has batted at that position just once after that, but is always expected to score runs in pressure situations. Unable to find a suitable role for her, the national selectors eventually dropped her from the team for the World Twenty20 last year. She returned to the squad for the upcoming tour of New Zealand because Pooja Vastrakar is injured.

In that context, the 2018-19 Challenger Trophy was very important for Pandey. Leading India Red, she just did not have to do well with both bat and ball but also had to lead from the front in order to prove a point. Having been questioned for her strategies in the first league game where they lost to India Blue by one wicket, Pandey made a big statement with figures of 5 for 33 – the second-best figures in the history of the tournament – in the final against the same opponent in the final at the Devineni Venkata Ramana Praneetha Ground in Mulapadu on Sunday (January 6).

Red won by 15 runs for their third Challenger Trophy title.

Put into bat, Red started well but suffered a middle-order collapse. Pandey’s 56-ball 31 ensured that they reached 183 before being dismissed in 49.2 overs. Then she used the cross-seam deliveries to account for Punam Raut, Minnu Mani, Priya Punia, Mansi Joshi and Bharati Fulmali to disallow Red from running away with the game. Even though Manali Dakshini tried her best with 31 in 41 balls, Blue were dismissed for 168 in 47.2 overs.

Raut, Blue’s captain, was the first to fall in the chase when she expected an incoming delivery from Pandey but the ball kept straight to take the edge. R Kalpana, the most impressive wicketkeeper in the tournament, dived full length to her right to take a single-handed catch just inches above the ground. Coming from round the wicket Pandey trapped Mani, the left-handed batter, in front of the wicket, and Punia lost her cool after a spree of dot balls to hit one straight to Tarannum Pathan at mid-off.

Pandey got good support from Komal Zanzad and Radha Yadav as was the case in the last league game against India Green. Radha had Tanusree Sarkar caught behind. Zanzad deceived Sushma Verma with change of pace to have her caught at cover point.

At 95 for 5, Blue were in a spot of bother before Fulmali got good support from Joshi to stitch a 21-run stand before Pandey brought herself back. It resulted in Joshi being caught behind after offering no footwork to a delivery outside the offstump.

Fulmali and Dakshini, among the two finds of the tournament, looked to take the game away from Red with a 39-run stand, but once again it was Pandey to change the direction. She got Fulmali (69) to cut one straight to Harleen Deol at point. Blue lost their last four wickets for 13 runs.

Earlier in the day after a ten-minute delayed start, Red showed good intent by looking for boundaries in the early part of their innings when the ball was hard. They hit 11 fours in the first Power Play. The most crucial bit was the fourth-wicket stand of 84 between Deol and Veda Krishnamurthy.

Veda was particuarly impressive, opening the account with a cover-driven four off the first ball she faced and there was no looking back after that. Her experience allowed Deol to settle down and the partnership flourished. Ved and Deol, like in the previous game, threw their wickets away when they were set for a big one, but Pandey’s late-order contribution ensured that they had a winning total to defend.

Pandey became only the third bowler to take five or more wickets in the Challenger Trophy history, but equally crucial in the second half of the business end of the match was Pathan’s three wicket haul. She provided the final touches to the triumph.

“After losing the first game to come back and hold our nerves and get the trophy is amazing. We have proved that women’s cricket is as amazing as any other format. We learnt from our mistakes in the fielding and bowling after the first loss. Batters took responsibility to play attacking cricket,” Pandey told at the presentation ceremony. “To get those wickets in the right intervals was amazing. The good thing about the partnership was it came at a crucial time, and they did not get bogged down. It allowed me to come and score runs. I am happy to have taken the responsibility and take those five wickets.”

India Red 183 in 49.2 overs (Harleen Deol 42, Veda Krishnamurthy 46, Shikha Pandey 31; Reemalaxmi Ekka 2-21, Tanusree Sarkar 3-22) beat India Blue 168 in 47.2 overs (Bharati Fulmali 69, Manali Dakshini 31; Shikha 5-33, Tarannum Pathan 3-22) by 15 runs.